Author Topic: Part 7: The Full Scope of Disaster  (Read 3468 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 7: The Full Scope of Disaster
« on: June 07, 2022, 10:09:05 PM »
Bypassing the normal network was an easy task, but only for qars who lived here in Praska. The foreigners didn't know the network at all. The Sergeant insisted on overseeing the work himself, though. Moss still didn't know the Sergeant's shortname. Something told him the Sergeant didn't even have one; he seemed like the kind of person who was absent any personality other than his work. Once he was sure the network wouldn't be accessed again, and set his own qars to guard it, the Sergeant started the private conversation. For someone who was probably hundreds of leagues away, he was pretty qars-on.

His tone through the network was still surly when he began. "Belhiera'torkalm'oss, I've been instructed to introduce you to ath'qestarlo'morha, Regent of Palarmos and Chancellor of the Continental Union," he said, and once again Moss and his grovemates were stunned into silence!

He had to be joking. The Chancellor herself was on the other end of that radio? But then, the Sergeant certainly didn't seem like a joker so far. "Um… hello?"

"Hello, Moss, if I may call you that," the other member of the conversation said casually. "You can call me Esta. I understand you've been having problems with the Sergeant's requests?"

"He barged in here with armored qars and started questioning me!" Moss responded hotly, more out of habit than genuine discontent. Trying to marshal his thoughts, he reflected on the sheer importance of the female he was talking to now. He was interacting with a freaking Head of State! "I don't mean to be problematic… your Excellency, but he has no right to demand my private property, or to interrogate me and mine like this. What I've done may have been socially questionable, but none of it was illegal. If he wants my cooperation, he'll have to give me some answers first."

He felt tension all the way to his farthest roots, and was sure some of it was translating through the network. His implication had been clear, though: his demands hadn't been to the Sergeant, but to the Chancellor herself.

The response that came through was much cooler than before, and tinged with surprised amusement. "You've got a stiff trunk, that's for sure," the Chancellor said wryly. "Very well. Sergeant, read them the legal restrictions. If you all agree to those terms, I'll fill you in on the rest."

"Excellency, I must protest!" The soldier responded. "Information of this sensitive nature—”

"Do it, Enrho. This is bound to get out sooner or later. Besides, I'm sure you can be trusted to enforce those rules."

"Yes, Excellency," he said darkly, and got to it.

It was a pretty standard confidentiality clause. They weren't to share this information with anyone under any circumstances, under pain of excommunication. That itself was an extremely harsh sentence. Excommunicated treqars were entirely isolated from the Union—far more so than even Moss would have preferred. Their qars were confiscated permanently, and a repellant was placed at the base of the offender, to keep any possible wild qars away. Not that anyone believed there were wildlings left out there, but the tradition held to this day.

A treqar sentenced to such punishment would be alone, for the rest of their life. They could spread seeds or pollen, but no offspring could grow near them, and would be forcibly uprooted and moved if discovered. Perhaps a lesser species of tree or bush could thrive under those circumstances, but a sentient being like a treqar? It would be maddening!

The only person Moss would want to tell was Noq. Chances were the canny inventor already knew, though. Besides, there was no legal way even the Chancellor could force him to tell them what he knew. He was in control of his work, thanks to his paranoid friend. Moss sent out a tentative agreement into the network. He firmed up after his father and Jora followed his example.

"Very well," the Chancellor said, sending out a trace of satisfaction. "I'll get right down to it. Your grove wasn't the only one attacked two days ago. It was a coordinated assault, across every grove in the Union. Perhaps further as well—I haven't heard back from Winterbark or Whitefoam." Those were two of the northern nation-states which had never formally joined the Union but still stayed on good terms with them.

She let out some resignation. "In each case, the trejun ambassador poisoned all the qar queens in the grove, and then left. About two hours later, presumably after they had all radioed back their success, Trejuna formally declared war on the Continental Union."

Surprise and shock bounced back and forth between his father and Jora. Moss knew how they felt. The entire Union had been attacked? That was over twelve hundred groves! More, if their northern neighbors were also involved. And now, for the first time in history, their conglomerate nation was at war??

"Are they insane?" His father was the first to respond openly. "We outnumber them twenty to one! We may not be able to cross the ocean yet, but we can crush any invasion they send. What could they be thinking by attacking us like this?"

"It doesn't matter, father," Moss said quietly, not bothering to hold his despair in. "They weren't trying to conquer us. They were after our qars, and they succeeded."

No one spoke for a moment, so he explained. "Think about it. Mating season ended more than a season ago. That means every fertile qar would be in the same chamber as their queen. They all died along with the queens. Now the whole species is on borrowed time! Two years—maybe three—and they'll all be dead! And without them, we might as well be disconnected ourselves!"

"From what my advisors tell me, that was their objective," the Chancellor confirmed sadly. "They won't invade, not right away at least. All they need to do is wait until our remaining qars die of old age, and then we'll all be easy pickings to them."

The Sergeant let out a burst of rage, and it was echoed by everyone else except for Moss. He was still filled with despair, but he kept it in this time. As usual when his emotions went dead like this, his analytical abilities increased. While his father railed and cursed in anger, Moss was busy thinking. Logical moves flowed into one another, and soon he had the whole attack mapped out in his mind.

It must have been massive, and preplanned to an incredible degree. Twelve hundred poison pellets at least, with specially trained juns to deliver them. Twelve hundred volunteers willing to island-hop over the ocean, and then land and win the trust of their treqar 'friends'. Radios with each one of course, so that they could report changes, details and possible complications to the plan. Ter had lied about that. They'd obviously built radios of their own in great numbers. They'd used Union tools to annihilate the Union! Also, it must have taken millions upon millions of juns to haul their masters around. No wonder Ter had never extended his roots into his new home, if he knew he wouldn't be staying long!

Their plan had worked perfectly, too. Treqars depended on qars for everything! From clearing out other insect parasites, to building the interroot system, to defending themselves, to planting seeds! In a few years none of that would be possible anymore, and the trejuns could come in here at their convenience! To rule over their new subjects, or possibly to just exterminate them. It was a masterstroke, at least in the sense of a game of ajed. But then in such a game, the value of lives was tabulated into a resource.

That still left one question though. "Why did they do this to us?" He asked slowly. "We never harmed them. The few northerners who did are all dead now. What do they have against us??"

"Along with their declaration of war, the President of the Trejun Consensus issued an enzyme statement," the Chancellor responded. Or Esta, he supposed he should call her now. There was no point in chancellors or government hierarchies if they were all doomed anyway. "I'll play part of it for you."

The radio popped as she no doubt attached an enzyme package to it. An unfamiliar enzyme signature appeared, and started speaking. "To the treqar citizens themselves, I make the following statement. Trejuna is the apex of all civilizations. We have achieved a perfection of form and purpose beyond anything you could ever understand. As such our superiority over you and all others is manifest. Destiny will have us rule over this world, now and forever."

The recording paused briefly, before the foreign monster could continue his speech. "Some of you have primitive belief systems. Pray to your Core if it brings you comfort, but you should all know that there is no shame in being what you are. Extinction is often the natural result of existence, and that is what is in store for you and your kind. We will make it quick, and as painless as possible. Mercy is part of what we are." The recording clicked off at that point, and Esta returned to the conversation.

"He's insane," Moss' father let out with some incredulity. "I don't know about the rest of his people, but they can't all be willing to go along with this!"

"So far, my advisors have found no signs of any unrest among them. We have no treqars in their territory, though. We still know so little about them. If there is an organized resistance against his tyranny, I doubt we can count on it to help us."

"You don't know that all the queens are dead. Not for sure," Jora put in, finally speaking her mind. "There could still be wild ones out there, or up in the northern tribes. The trejuns could have missed some, or some could have survived the attacks!"

Grace had returned with her squad in the meantime. He huddled them close together underneath him. Suddenly they felt very precious to him, now that he knew they might be the last generation of their kind. "That's why you're interested in me, isn't it?" He asked, the other pieces falling into place in his mind. "You might have a few surviving queens, but you have to plan for the worst. There are no other animals that work together and think together like qars. So you have to come up with a mechanical replacement for them. That's what brought you to Noq in the first place, right? Because he's a well-known inventor who's been working on radio-controlled mobility! But if you've got him, why bother with me? My designs are rudimentary by comparison!"

There was no response. Only a slight tension eased out from the radio, and Moss felt his roots tighten again. Noq was well-known for what he did. If he hadn't chosen to help the Union under these circumstances, that could only mean…

"He's dead, isn't he? They killed him for that very reason."

"I'm afraid so," Esta confirmed his fears, and she actually sounded sincere about it. "At the same time grove Ursun's queens were poisoned, your friend's workshop was attacked as well. They used the same fire compound as the one from a century ago. He burned from the inside out, and all of his work was destroyed."

Moss let out a stream of terror and anguish. "He was a good person! A creator! All he cared about was making beautiful and useful tools that could help all of us—treqar and trejun alike!"

Noq had become like family to Moss over the years. Moss' despairing detachment vanished in an instant, flooded over with pain and remorse and horror. As he let all that out into the small network, a part of his mind didn't care that he was venting in front of perfect strangers, or the leader of his nation for that matter. It wasn't right that Noq was just gone like this! It wasn't fair!

His father and Jora reached out as well, with comfort and reassurance. The enzymes weren't nearly as strong as his own, but at least they were there. Even the Sergeant sent out some commiseration.

"He was unique," Esta put in softly, "but he wasn't the only inventor killed yesterday. Thirty-five treqars burned along with him, all across the Union. They represented the best we had in building, mechanical design, radio control, electrical generation, and many other areas of study. The trejuns wanted to make sure that we couldn't replace the qars once they were gone."

Again, Moss' mind switched back to a game of ajed. Tactics within tactics. Don't just execute a massive sneak attack; follow it up with contingencies to match their contingencies. The trejuns might be arrogant, but they weren't stupid.

"Is my son next?" Moss' father put in urgently. "Is that the real reason you sent qars here? To defend him if necessary?"

"It's possible," the Sergeant finally spoke up, probably on the Chancellor's urging. "They might have missed him on the first pass, but they could still find out about him any day now. We need any prototypes you still have intact, and any designs you've been working on, and we need them now," he directed at Moss, his earlier nature showing again.

"Now wait just a minute," his father began, but the Chancellor cut him off.

"I'm afraid it's gone beyond just information. Moss, you're in danger simply for your association with Noq. You'll have to be moved, immediately. I've already issued orders for other people in similar situations."

In his mind, Moss was still envisioning Noq bursting into flames and dying in terror. The conversation in the background had become little more than a buzz, but that caught his attention. He was being moved?

Treqar seeds could be moved by a single qar. Seedlings by a few dozen. But someone of his height and weight… would take thousands. Perhaps hundreds of thousands! The trip would take weeks as well, without access to water or food. He would have to stock up before the move.

It had been done several times throughout recorded history, but never lightly. Political informants whose lives were in danger, or career criminals trying to hide their thefts of valuable qars, and willing to spend enormous amounts of chit to ensure their safety. Was Moss going to join them in the history books?

His father was still arguing against it of course. Despite his career plans, he did love Moss. They hadn't been close for a long time, but Moss felt that love keenly right now. If it had just been his own life at stake, he might have even wanted to stay, but there was more to it. "It's all right, father. I'll go."

"Moss, you're practically still a sapling!"

"Exactly. I'm small enough to make the trip without too much trouble. Assuming it's not too far," he added to the radio.

"I can't share your destination yet," the Sergeant explained, having the grace to include a little shame at being forced to intrude on this private moment. "We just need to get you out of grove Praska before the trejuns find out about you."

"We can keep you hidden," Jora added, feeling almost as resistant. "No one knows what you're working on outside of Praska. We can keep your work secret, and build you a private root system to keep working!"

"I have to do this, Grovekeeper," he insisted. "This isn't just about my own safety anymore. These were only the trejuns' first moves; I'm sure of it. Before long they'll cross the ocean again and start killing or enslaving us. I'm not a warrior or strategist, but I can fight for my people in my own way. You both have to let me go. Please."

Their assent was slow in coming but inevitable. Like any small, rural grove, the people in Praska were more tightly connected than larger communities. In the end though, it was his decision, and he'd made it.
« Last Edit: August 10, 2022, 01:34:34 AM by Daen »